Monday, November 29, 2010

Thanksgiving Weekend Installment 2 - The River

We were headed off to El Yunque on Saturday and checked email before we left. There was an email from Tom. The Anasco River was clear and at a good height for kayaking - a condition that rarely occurs. He wanted to head out that way on Sunday. Jeff had planned to go hiking with another friend but invited her to this adventure instead. She isn't a paddler and doesn't care for the water much so she passed but Jeff really wanted to do it so we did. The adventure started out like all of them do...with a confusing drive to the site. We took 119 (panoramic route) that twists and turns and turns and turns and for a while travels along the ridge of the mountains kind of behind our house. We had a couple pauses as the Tom-Tom lost the road....119 had a little gap (called 105) before it picks up again as 119 and it really isn't clear which way to go. Once we arrive in Las Marias the confusion compounded as the Tom-Tom sent us down an impossible road where we see Dallas (another friend joining in for the fun) driving toward us. We are both confused. We try to get some local directions from people but they too are confused so we go with the Tom-Tom over the 2 GPS's and do make our way there at last. We drive close to the water and it is beautiful! We pull the kayaks off the car, load them up, relocate the vehicles to a safer spot and head out!
Here is Jeff standing in the shade waiting for departure. Dallas is in the kayak with his dog Crash Boat who is wearing a tiny life vest.

We paddle downstream for about 8 miles of mostly calm water with a few little runs like this one. Just enough white water to make for a little bit of excitement. It might be really fun with a higher water level!

We pass orange farms, plantano/guineo farms, coffee farms and cows.

The sun is shining and Tom, Brett, Dallas, Crashboat and I are all enjoying it. It is a perfect day on the water. This was the most exciting little rapid we went down. Jeff went first and made it out to be a big deal which made Brett and I hesitate a little but it turned out to be the funnest spot without any problems.

After this spot we meandered around for a while longer before reaching the bridge where Tom's car was parked. This was the pull-out spot for today. We pulled everything up the steep embankment and I hear little cat voices. Yes. I need hearing aids that will reduce my hearing and screen out cat voices. There were two very teeny kittens under the undercarriage of a truck container. They didn't look deathly but there was no mom. No one in our group wanted to take them and with 12 we just can't. If we were to live here forever we would have but we are on a 7-more-years plan unless things here improve (jobs). We had to leave them, but they got an hour of loving while I got lost retrieving the truck. We finally all did get back to pick up the kayaks (and Jeff) and then headed to Tom and Diana's for a quick visit. It was a nice one. This is a very nice river. The water was very clear (rare event) and there wasn't any garbage anywhere. The float was a nice one and wasn't very taxing. The company was great. Another nice weekend - but busy.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Thanksgiving Weekend Installment One - Busy Busy

Thursday morning we spent some time together at the house. Usually we are on the run doing activities and Jeff doesn't get to enjoy the house. Since we were going to a friends' house for Thanksgiving dinner (and the waves were too high to dive) we stuck around the house. I baked an apple pie and made a raw food chocolate pudding to bring over. We headed over the Raquel and Ray's at around 3:15. Other guests hadn't arrived yet so we toured the finca. We hadn't seen it since their neighbors burned half their forest (5 acres of it). They lost a lot of really nice trees including Capa Prietas and Rainbow Eucalyptus. Despite the losses it still looked like a forest, but I am sure they are missing many beautiful trees they remember planting as seedlings. Raquel's family arrived so we all came up the slope toward the house to get things ready for dinner. Here's the table - yes it is the end of November, we are dining outside and there isn't any rain. It did get a little chilly so we did put on sweaters but for November? Where else is it this beautiful? We had a great meal with great company. We had some nice wine. Another friend dropped by and there were nice discussions. Very pleasant evening - it is nice to have friends!
Friday was spent doing yard things. The weather abruptly changed around the 20th and it feels like the dry season is here. It is breezy, cooler, the humidity is much lower and things done in the yard stay done for a while. After Friday at home we decided to head to El Yunque on Saturday. We have lived here for 3 years and hadn't been to the rain forest. The rain forest seemed very much like the walks through the jungle we take on the way to caves with the exception of a couple surprises. First off the 'forest' appeared to be pretty much just gigantic palms. We weren't expecting that. The next surprise was that all the bromeliads were blooming. The park was clean. The roads leading up to the park were clean. The trails were in good condition. In the jungle it almost likes like things are "arranged." Bromeliads and ferns look like they were planted on tree trunks.

The palms were gigantic! Every corner had some view or a stream or clouds/mist.

We followed the El Yunque trail to the lookout tower at the top. Once you round this one area you come to a bunch of rocks and at this point you can carefully climb out onto them and look 360. The jungle/forest floor dropped away. The mist/clouds rolled out/over the slopes. It was like being in a movie.

This was definitely a cloud forest.

There were neat plants in the wild that are "houseplants" in the west.

We reached the top of the El Yunque trail in 1 and a half hours of so. There was an observatory there.

We were up at almost 3500 feet which is high for Puerto Rico. We took a slightly different way back going on Road 10 for a short bit until we got to the Mt.Britton spur. We went down it until we reached the observatory there.

Inside it looked neat with the doorway and windows oozing mist. There were snails on the trails.

Red stick skirts adorned the palm trees and the tops of the palms were packed with loads of bromeliads and ferns.

On the drive down we stopped at this waterfall. We were kind of poo pooing things like lookout places but stopped here to see the falls. This was a shear flat rock face that the water cascaded over.

So now we have been to the cloud forest part of the park. The next time we will go to a lower elevation area. It would be nice to see a tree fern forest or something. After hiking for a bunch of miles we stopped for an early dinner at Ichibana's in Caguas. We had a nice sushi dinner. We topped it off with a Carmel Machiatti and 5 layer chocolate cake from Starbucks. Then it was home to pack up for Sunday's adventure!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Cueva Mantilla...Not the Prettiest but Interesting

We joined up with Tom, his student Jose, and we headed off to Cueva Mantilla somewhere in the San Sebastian area. After rounding up with Tom (who was helping get a student situated digging a grave - actually just a 6 foot soil sample hole that looked like a grave) we headed a little ways to the cave site. We parked at some peoples' houses and started to gear up. Jose, who lives nearby, walked over to join us. Just as we get the knee pads on Jeff looks into the car and says, "I think Blanco is in the car!" I look, and sure enough there is a Blanco look-alike cat sitting in my gear bin on my stuff. Unbelievable! I am beginning to think I am a cat reincarnated as a human or something. This cat is rubbing all over us, rolling around, sitting on stuff...a lovely kitty! We head off to the hole in the ground that is Cueva Mantilla. Tom hadn't gone down this particular hole before since there are a couple walk-in entrances. We like to use the vertical gear since there is something exciting about dropping into a black hole. Jeff tied the 100 foot rope and threw it down. Tom went in first (this was his hole - he told us we could go first though). He brought another rope with him in case the rope didn't go all the way down and it is a good thing he had it.

He made it to the end of the rope and was on a ledge getting the second 40 foot rope tied off to the first one. We have not gone over a knot with the rappelling gear before so this was going to be interesting! We didn't have a cow's tail to do the belay but we did wear our vertical gear so we used a croll and ascender as the points of contact to switch to the second rope. We were lucky there was a ledge to stand on to do it for the first time. Once in this other little pit it dropped the full 40 feet of rope without any extra. The bottom of the rope just dangled barely above the bottom of the cave. Exciting!

This is taken with me hanging on the 1st rope looking down into the pit. The red webbing is part of my ascending gear (footstrap).

At the bottom the first thing we encountered were a couple horse jaws. Up top the hole was fenced so animals couldn't fall in. Sometimes these holes are not that large and I guess animals could fall in. We are hoping this was the case. We have heard of a cave, Cueva Caballo, were old horses were pushed in to their death on purpose - yes part of the many dark sides of Puerto Rico.

This cave is not very pretty. There aren't many nice formations, the river isn't deep or interesting, it is a cave with a couple very large rooms and a few side shoots. It is somewhere to spend 4 or 5 or 6 hours at most. We came to this interesting shoot of large slabs of rock. Tom told us this was a "special treat" we would go up last. Oh goody - what does that mean?

We came here to help Tom survey some last sections that needed to be completed for his map. Surveying takes at least 3 people. You need someone to take measurements (ceiling, degrees inclination, or declination, sidewall to sidewall, compass directions, length of passage from point or "station" to "station"). To take the measurements Jeff is the gizmo guy, Jose helped a tiny bit with the compass and then turned it over to Jeff, I am the one who picks a station and holds a card so the measurement can be taken. I have to have a line of sight with the previous station and have to make sure the future station will be in the line of sight also. The farther apart the stations are the less work there is. Here I picked one I had to climb to so the previous station could see it but I could see forward to the next station and not be blocked by this formation. I am kind of chimneying between the wall and the column to hold the card. The third person is Tom who records all the measurements and also any specifics about the location of the station and sketches etc. This formation was one of the nicer ones.

This was the end-of-the-line for humans. Just past this column it was about 2 feet tall and my shoulders wide. It ended with little, tiny slits smaller than an envelope opening that bats were flying in and out of. I looked up and saw a really deep (maybe 12 feet) bell hole with a bat hanging up top in it. That is a deep bell hole. This is looking up into the deep bell hole.

Jeff climbed up to explore a tiny room. I went up into a few tight spots to see if they "went" and none of them did but I had fun exploring and was glad we could now declare them dead-ends. This was a neat formation. I guess there were a few, it just wasn't white and clean.

My favorite parts of caving are when only I can fit somewhere. I also like being the one to scout it out to see if it is worth other people trying to fit. This passage was definitely a Katrina passage - everyone else went to the right and I took it to the left on my stomach with the helmet off in the water. The stalactites got lower and lower and I whacked my lower back on some when the butt rose up when I tried to go forward. At the end of it I could see Tom's light so I did continue on since I knew I'd be able to at least turn around up ahead otherwise I would have backed out probably. It got so low I couldn't go on my knees to go forward (hit my back) - I had to toe-push to go forward. I also got a stalactite in the back of the head when I lifted my face to get it out of the water. (yes that is why you wear a helmet - too bad mine was off since it wouldn't fit!). Anyway, I made it through (a mental challenge) and then had to hop up and wriggle through a tight spot to get back out to the others. Finally the surveying and fun exploring was done and we were off to the "surprise." Here it is...

Yup - another dark side of Puerto Rico...garbage garbage garbage. Deep and disgusting. Plastic, dolls, bottles, stoves, cans, glass and who knows what else all pushed into a hole somewhere on the surface and down into their drinking water. We are told garbage tossing is "cultural" and there is no culture that promotes it better than Puerto Rico. Total disconnect with reality here. Tom has looked for this hole on the surface and hasn't found it. I think he needs to wander around the neighborhood with a garbage bag asking where to toss it in order to find it. It is a coveted secret spot I guess reserved only for VIPs. Back at the cars our new cat (no we didn't take him home) was waiting. This is the dichotomy of Puerto Rico...part of the love/hate of the place...we park in someones yard...they are fine with us being here and sometimes folks even offer showers and coffee and offer to show us other caves...but there are the dead animals and total disregard for animals and the whole disgusting garbage thing. How do you reconcile it? You can' is Puerto Rico. The good and the ugly rolled into one all the time.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Cueva Monte Grande

Jeff did some research and found an article about a cave, Cueva Monte Grande in San German/ Cabo Rojo. He mentioned it to Tom who of course knew all about it and on Sunday Jeff and I went out to search for it with some general information about its location. We drove past a quarry and then started looking up and saw a limestone rock face with a suspect crack. I figured we should talk to neighbors to confirm it before climbing up and also to kind of let them know why the white ass gringos were roaming their streets. We found a couple men working on a car and Jeff of course wouldn't try talking so he turned around so my side of the car would be closest to them - no problem. They knew about the cave but as always just gave a general hand wave in the direction of it (this is not always helpful). The woman painting upstairs spoke English and had more to say, mainly that it was "closed." We read that it was an archaeological site. We headed off, parked kind of near some houses, and started up the slope near a dry creek bed. When we arrived up top there was indeed a chain link fence kind of blocking the entrance (or at least at one time it blocked it). There was a big slit of limestone that just seemed out of place and once in it the cave entrance was to the left.

There were some petroglyphs. Some of them appeared "real" and others look like maybe real ones had been tinkered with. This one looked real. There was a small group of them at the entrance and we didn't see any inside nor did we see anything else that looked like an archaeological thing. The cave was good size, but really was one big main room with an upper side room that didn't go anywhere. There were two skylights that let a little light in.

The most impressive thing about this cave was the sound. It sounded like the sci fi shows where the replicators are taking over the space ship...lots of clicking and rustling of cockroaches...BIG cockroaches.

They were hatching out of these little pods on the floor...not really, these are Maria Tree seeds the bats have brought in and the cockroaches were crawling all over them making creepy replicator sounds.

There was evidence of a lot of bats but we didn't see many. Here's Jeff inside the main room. I think it looks like eyes.

After exploring we headed out to explore the limestone for more possible caves, the skylights, or in general the unknown. Tom had told us about a spring and we found this on the backside of the cave.

I found one hole I couldn't drop in to and then Jeff found this one that he wanted me to check out. I don't know why I always get sent in...he could have fit in to at least peak and see if it went.

It required me to take the helmet off and do a tummy crawl but then it opened up and I could stand.

I went about 30 feet maybe and there were some formations in it. Then it dead ended after curving to the right on one side and left on the other.

I have no doubt that I am the only person who has gone into this spot. That is what caving is all about...scooping the booty! We didn't see any more holes to explore so our short afternoon of exploration was over and we were home in 35 minutes.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Estoy Afuera!

Success at last...I am out of my T-mobile cell phone contract with no early cancellation fee. I am very excited and never thought it would happen. When I first got T-mobile it worked. The connection was very clear and mostly the connection was, well, connected. I could receive and make calls from the house, most everywhere except at the bottom of the driveway or deep in hills (which I understand). Then around June I figured out that I just wasn't getting any calls and when I did the phone didn't ring and it went to voicemail (which at least I did get). Then Jeff was calling 15 times near 5 pm to try to get through and any calls I made were "call failed." Very frustrating. When it did go through it would cut out after 5 minutes. Then the screen on the phone stopped working and that was the turning point. Maybe it is the phone? (I knew it wasn't). The last thing I wanted to do was buy another phone that I had to pay for and couldn't use with another carrier. So a friend (thank you Diana) had an old T-mobile phone she wasn't using so I popped in my shiny new SIM card (I got it after the first complaint visit) and the battery and had the same problems plus her screen only worked for a little bit before doing what mine did. Nothing. I have 9 months left on the frigging contract!
Visit 2 - they wanted me to buy a phone. Why would I buy a phone when the phone isn't the problem? Why would I spend 30 bucks that I can't use with another carrier which is going to be the only solution (or will it be)? Finally they "loaned" me a phone to try out and had a service guy come to Guama (lots of complaints apparently) to check the tower or something. Supposedly the problem could have been them screwing with stuff to make the G4 upgrade. So today, after having the loaner phone for 2 weeks and resigning myself to the probability that I would have to keep paying for service that worked sometimes and have to pay more elsewhere for a phone that did work for emergencies at the house I went in for one final push of "I am not paying for service I am not getting because it isn't fair." I have to say that I don't expect a lot. I am not an ass trying to get out of a contract I knew was a contract. Something happened to really mess things up and the phone service just wasn't. So I tried to muster up my patience, suppress my anger and be forceful but apologetic at the same time and it worked! I am out and could not be happier. Now all I have to do is find a pay by the minute no contract phone that works here and I will be able to chat occasionally. So if you are trying to reach me use Jeff's 425 phone number. I no longer have a phone. I am going to rest for a few days before I start the new phone search. It'd be nice to have an unlimited plan that is a Puerto Rico area code so our local friends don't have to pay long distance but I don't know if I want to get into a contract (pretty sure I don't).

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Soda Straw Cave (Sorbetos) - In Search of a New Route

On Saturday Jeff, Bro, Anthony, William, Jose F., myself and a few others headed off to Cueva Sorbetos to investigate a couple of spots we had seen on a previous trip that looked like they could continue on. Bro had been talking to old-timers about a spot he and I found that looked like I could fit in and drop down into another hole that looked like it may continue. This time I would explore it and we had webbing so I could get back up (Bro couldn't fit so the concern was that I could get stuck and no one could come after me). We were full of hope...hope that this would be the lost tunnel! Also there had been a sump that felt (with feet anyway) like it may "go" so Anthony came with a scuba tank and mask to check it out. Things did not work out. First we entered into the wild world of crazy soda straw formations. These delicate straws are hollow and still growing. They are extremely delicate so you have to be very careful walking under or near them. It is a wonderland of beauty.

Tucked in with the straws are Helictites which I call the "anti-gravity" formations. These formations grow at crazy angles that make no sense at all. Look at the 90 degree turn on this one. Here's another one stretching out like a long finger.

We rambled around the cave in awe. This was only the second time Jeff and I had been in this cave and really the first time I think I "saw" it. The first time in a cave involves looking for footing, moving forward quickly and really not knowing what to stop to look at or what's "important" about the cave. Look at this hairy Helictite.

So we rambled around looking closely at formations until we reached THE spot...the previously found mini drop. But first Anthony wanted to investigate a sump. He cracked open his stage bottle (tank) and pshhhhhhhhh all the air came rushing out because of a cracked o-ring. It was not to be. So he put on his mask to see what he could see and determined he couldn't see much. Now that he was finished it didn't matter if I murked up the water so he and I headed to the spot Bro and I previously found. We swam to it, climbed into the little window area and tied off the webbing. After some play fighting (it is MY hole) I went down first (it was MY hole) and discovered it didn't go anywhere. One of these times a hole I go into or get sent down had better go somewhere! I did tunnel around a boulder and could peer into another little drop of sorts that was too small for even me. It didn't look promising enough to try to widen so I came back up. Anthony decided not to go around the boulder (pretty tight) since it didn't "go." While I was inside a little tunnel near the boulder Jeff decided to have a peek in the window I guess and he displaced a bunch of water which came tumbling down in waterfall style directly onto me in the claustrophobic tunnel bringing little rocks and silt with it. Needless to say I yelled and every time he moved it made matters worse. So I did get out and unfortunately it was a dead end. When I look at Helictites I imagine circus dancers pulling up and down wires...Here I see a bird hovering above its perch. I can set the scene in motion in my imagination.

So now we went to the slippery slope that went down to a place where water was rushing. This turned out to be a super short (one body length) tunnel that sumped and the tunnel to the right go tighter and tighter and tighter and had a LOT of water moving. I had to take off my helmet and the water almost took it away! So much for finding Atlantis - all leads were now officially explored. We headed back and saw some cave bacon formations. Some more string dancers. (or pole dancers)

There were some nice columns. If you look to the left in this shot you can see a small yellow Jeff. This cave is beautiful. The formations are wonderful and we really enjoyed ourselves.